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The Pioneering Spirit

Frederick Eugene Machesney moved to Rockford, Illinois in 1927 and in July of that year opened what became known as Rockford's First Official Airport.  He was twenty-nine years of age at the time and had earned the confidence and sponsorship of some of Rockford's influential businessmen.  In just a few short years he would, through tireless work and determination, create not just a thriving business, but the local and regional hub of aviation.



Machesney and pilots with his Curtiss Jenny at his first airfield in Kewanee, IL.  Photo courtesy of the Kewanee Historical Society

Shortly after World War I, Machesney borrowed $400 dollars from his father and sought out the instruction of the aviation pioneer and daredevil Art “Bird Boy” Smith. Machesney traveled to Sikeston, Missouri to train with Smith and completed his first solo after just 5.5 hours in the air.  Following his flight training, Machesney worked for a few years to earn the $1000 needed to purchase his own JN-4D Jenny, which he did in 1924.  From that point on, flying was Machesney’s life and livelihood.  He joined a flying circus and performed in barnstorming shows around the region.  He also opened his first airfield in his hometown of Kewanee, IL.  Over the next few years Machesney grew his flying business and in 1926 had a chance meeting with a few Rockford businessmen at a summer picnic.  The following year, his legacy as Rockford’s most influential aviator officially began with the opening of his airport.

During his fifty-seven year career, Machesney was involved in almost every aspect of local aviation, from giving general aviation flight lessons to ferrying shoppers to Chicago to leading Civil Aeronautical training during the Second World War.  Frederick Machesney can indeed be considered the Father of Rockford Aviation.

Please join us here as we explore the career and influence of Fred Machesney through weekly stories and posts about our local aviation heritage.  




Machesney’s first airport in Rockford, 1927. Less than a year later, MAC moved about a half mile north to his final location on the present site of Machesney Park mall.

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In 1927 Frederick Machesney and his wife Mae moved North from the small farming town of Kewanee, Illinois to Rockford to begin the operation of a small regional airfield.  Over the course of the next fifty years Machesney's story would help to shape the development and thus the history of air travel in his local community and throughout the upper Midwest.  By the time he retired in the late 1970s, his field was recognized as the oldest existent single operator airport in the country.  
Machesney was a skilled airman and a community leader, a man with a strong vision and the ambition to bring it to life.  In his fifty years as a central f…

Machesney Concedes to Progress

“Forty-nine years ago I dug my first spade of ground here, and now I’m doing it again. But this’ll be longer lasting.” -- Fred Machesney, August 2nd, 1977.





The headline from Rockford’s Morning Star-Register Republic paper from August 22nd, 1974 reads “Machesney Concedes to Progress”. As a researcher, I have read thousands of historical headlines over the years but none have had a personal impact on me more than the one listed above. When Machesney came to Rockford he ushered in a whole new era. For the first time in the history of the city, the airplane was now seen as a viable tool for commerce, recreation, and tourism. Business leaders could charter Machesney to take sales trips all over the region and be back home in time for dinner. Intrepid shoppers could take a shopping tour of Milwaukee and Chicago and be home the same day. Hundreds of aircraft from visiting cities and tours came through the airport during the year to promote aviation or conduct business. The possibilities for t…